5 Basic Nutrition Principles

April 09, 2021 6 min read

5 Basic Nutrition Principles

We know that nutrition is often confusing, uncertain, and a bit controversial depending on who you talk to or what you read. So often we get caught up in the latest research or article on fish oil supplements, magical mushroom powder, or rich antioxidant fruit. It can get overwhelming. There are also quite a few different styles of eating be it vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros), intuitive eating, etc - so where do you even start?

First, food is essential - it provides vital nutrients for survival, helps the body function optimally and stay healthy. So whether you’re just starting to focus on your nutrition, or you need a refresher on some of the foundations that make a big difference, keep reading becausethere are some basic principles you should understand to help nourish your body no matter what your goal is or what style of eating you choose.

Let's talk about the 5 basic principles of nutrition so you can better understand how to properly fuel your body and maintain good health.

1) Calories - Calories are essential to life and provide energy to your body. But it is important to align your intake with your goals and maintain a proper energy balance no matter if your goal is fat loss, muscle gain or maintenance. 

Calories are necessary for:

  1. Vital Organ Function - This means things like our heart pumping blood, brain functioning, lungs breathing oxygen, and our liver/kidneys detoxifying the body! 
  2. Physical Activity - Calories, and carbohydrates specifically, are necessary for glycogen, which is our body’s number one energy source. For us to run fast, lift heavy, and move on a daily basis, our body needs calories - including carbohydrates. 
  3. Cellular Repair - Cells within our body are dying off and rebuilding constantly. Calories also help shuttle nutrients into the body at the cellular level and without adequate calories we are unable to repair our own body properly.  
  4. Muscle Repair and Development - Calories are extremely important for muscle repair, building and rebuilding. You may work hard and lift heavy, but without adequate calories you won’t reap the same benefits. 
  5. Weight Control - Taking in adequate calories allows our body to maintain homeostasis and function in an ideal place. Consuming too few calories results in metabolic adaptation and our metabolism will slow down to conserve energy. Conversely, with too many calories and eating in a caloric surplus we will eventually gain body fat. So, taking in the proper amount of calories is what keeps us healthy!

2) Quality of food 

One of the questions we hear all the time is“What foods are”‘good” and what foods are“bad”?”  There is so much confusion because the diet culture has labeled food as “good” or “bad” and  “approved” or “off-limits,” but we want to help you make this a lifestyle and understand that there are no bad foods - food is food, some are just more nutrient dense and some are calorie dense!

So what do we mean by calorie dense and nutrient dense? 

Well, the easiest way we can explain this is with some simple examples: 

Pizza is a very calorie dense food, but doesn’t pack a ton of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, nutritional value to the body).  At the end of the day, it provides a lot of calories, but does not provide a ton of benefit nutritionally. Even though we can all agree - it is delicious!  

Vegetables tend to be very nutrient dense foods. They provide lots of different vitamins and minerals like potassium, fiber, Vitamins A, C, and E.  But they are typically pretty light in calories. 

There are also foods that are both calorie dense and nutrient dense such as avocados, grass-fed beef, nuts and seeds.  

So what we want to make sure of is that we have LOTS of nutrient dense foods, meaning one ingredient, whole foods, and moderate the calorie-dense/low-nutrient foods so that we provide our body with the nourishment it needs to thrive!  

3) Water 

Water seems so simple, yet so many people struggle with drinking ENOUGH! Although we may think we drink enough, most of the time when we take a deeper look, we are missing the mark.  It is SUPER important to pay attention to as it is one of the most essential components in the human body, making up 75% of all muscle tissue, and 10% of fatty tissue.  It also transports nutrients (like sugar) through cells and filters wastes.

We have talked about the importance of hydration for fat loss before, you can read that blog here

The basic principle surrounding water is that ideally you should consume ½ your body weight in ounces per day. 

For example: if you weigh 150 pounds you would need to drink 75-100 ounces of water per day. 

If you struggle to get ½ your body weight, aim to add 6-8 ounces more per day and work your way up. You could also include HYDRATE in your water to make it flavorful and more enjoyable! Focus on being a bit better every day and you will make a sustainable change!

4) Veggies

Eating vegetables provides so many health benefits, yet many people struggle to consume enough fruits and veggies. When it comes to eating vegetables, 84% of Americans say they fall short of getting the recommended four daily servings. (source) Additionally, only 1% (one percent!) of us say that we eat vegetables at breakfast. Which means, of course, that your morning meal is a prime opportunity to up your intake. 

Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. They may also protect against certain types of cancers. Eating more vegetables can also support your fat loss goals as they are lower in calories per cup compared to other higher-calorie foods.  One more bonus - they reduce sugar and carb cravings as you’re providing your body with the proper vitamins and minerals that are often the root cause for cravings when we are deficient in certain nutrients. 

Consuming more fruits and vegetables also helps increase intake of fiber and potassium, which are important nutrients that many people do not get enough of in their diet. We have talked about the importance of fiber intake before as well - read more here

Ideal intake of vegetables is 4-6 cups or more per day. We know that sounds like a lot, but it is pretty easy if you break it down into 3-4 meals. For example, you could make a smoothie in the morning with 1 cup spinach, another handful of other veggies such as a few carrots, beets, celery, cucumber, cilantro, parsley, sprouts or other greens. Followed by a big salad for lunch, a snack with bell peppers or baby carrots and hummus, and then a nice stir fry dinner :) 

5) Protein

Research has proven time and time again that a high-protein diet is extremely helpful for weight-loss, satiation levels, and maintaining muscle mass to improve body-composition. It helps our muscles to grow and maintain a lean physique - plus it is filling and it will help keep you satiated so you aren’t constantly feeling hungry. 

Every living cell uses protein for both structural and functional purposes. It serves as an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, as well as being utilized to build and repair tissues, make enzymes, and hormones.  However, it is the most commonly under-eaten macronutrient, especially when following a vegan or vegetarian diet. So, this is an area you can evaluate and focus on immediately :) 

How much should you consume?

The FDA’s recommended daily allowance is a minimum of 0.8g per kg (or 0.4g per pound of body-weight), but that is basically to avoid malnourishment. 

For our goals, and for our health, we need a bit more and we’ve found by working with thousands of clients that these ranges work well.

Here are some basic guidelines when determining intake and accomplishing that intake goal:

  • Multiply your current body-weight by the multiplier that best fits your situation.
    • Sedentary most of the day/desk job = .7g per lb. of body weight
    • Light activity (1-3 workouts/wk) = .8g per lb. of body weight
    • Moderate-High Activity (4-5 workouts/wk) = 1g per lb. of body weight
  • Make sure that this level of protein is not beyond 35-40% of your total daily caloric intake. If it is, bring the protein intake down to 40% of calories maximum.
  • For the remainder of your calories, other than protein, try to keep fats and carbohydrates balanced (about 30-35% of total daily calorie intake each).
  • If your protein goal is very far from where you are currently at, try to incrementally get there. Increase by 20g at first for 3-4 days, then try to bump another 10-20g and hold there for a few days, etc. until you reach the recommended level. 

There you have it! No matter what eating style or ‘diet’ you choose, or what your goals are, these are 5 basic principles of all good nutrition that will help you optimize your health and achieve your goals. If you’re just starting out on your journey, you can use these principles to help you understand and evaluate your intake a bit more then start making the necessary changes!

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